U.S.

Parkland school shooting jury visits untouched, bloodstained classrooms | Gun crime

Roses brought in honor of love on Valentine’s Day in 2018 lay withered, their dried and cracked petals scattered around the classrooms still smeared with the blood of victims shot by a former student more than four years ago.

At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where gunman Nikolas Cruz killed 14 students and three staff members, bullet holes were drilled through the walls and shards of glass were extracted from windows shattered by gunfire.

Nothing had changed except for the removal of the victims’ bodies and some personal items.

Twelve jurors and 10 deputies who will decide whether Cruz will receive the death penalty or life imprisonment paid a rare visit to the massacre site on Thursday and followed Cruz’s steps through the three-story freshman building known as Building 12.

After they left, a group of journalists were admitted for a much faster first public look. The sight was deeply disturbing.

Large pools of dried blood still stained the classrooms. A lock of dark hair rested on the floor where one of the victims’ bodies once lay. A single black rubber shoe stood in a hallway. Brown rose petals were scattered across a hallway where six people died, and Valentine’s Day gifts, such as toy bears, and maps where they had fallen into the wreckage.

In class after class, open notes showed unfinished lessons. A blood-covered book titled Tell Them We Remember lay atop a bullet-riddled desk in the classroom where a teacher, Ivy Schamis, was teaching students about the Holocaust.

A sign on a bulletin board read, “We will never forget.” Two students died there.

In English teacher Dara Hass’ class, where most of the students were shot, there were essays on Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot by the Taliban to go to school, and who has since become a global advocate for access to education for women and girls.

The door of room 1255, teacher Stacey Lippel’s classroom, was shoved open—like others to indicate that Cruz shot in. Inside on one wall was a sign that read: “No Bully Zone”. The creative writing assignment for today was on the whiteboard: “How to write the perfect love letter.”

And still on the wall of a second-floor hallway hung a quote from James Dean: “Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’re going to die today.”

In the geography classroom of murdered teacher Scott Beigel, a laptop was still open on his desk. The students’ assignments comparing the teachings of Christianity and Islam remained, some graded, some not.

Prosecutors, who rested their case after the jury tour, hope the visit will help prove Cruz’s actions were cold, calculated, horrific and cruel; created a high risk of death for many people and “prevented government office”—all aggravating factors under Florida’s death penalty law.

Under Florida court rules, neither the judge nor the attorneys were allowed to speak to the jurors — and the jurors were not allowed to talk to each other — as they followed the path Cruz took on Feb. 14, 2018, as he moved from floor to floor, firing through hallways and in classrooms.

Prior to the tour, the judges had already seen surveillance videos of the shooting and photos of its aftermath.

The building is sealed and the Broward County school district plans to demolish it when prosecutors approve. For now it is a court exhibition.

Cruz, now 23, pleaded guilty to 17 first-degree murders in October.

After the jurors returned to court on Thursday from the rare crime scene visit, the mothers of two victims testified that the massacre permanently put a damper on not only every Valentine’s Day, but other important family celebrations as well.

Helena Ramsay (17) died on her father’s birthday. “That day will never be a celebration and will never be the same for him,” said her mother, Anne Ramsay.

Hui Wang, whose 15-year-old son Peter was killed, said the shooting happened the day before the Lunar New Year. A planned celebration was canceled that year and every year since. “This day of unity became a day that hurts the most,” she said.